Denmark and Sweden can be an inspiration for Slovakia

Issues of climate change, air pollution and a focus on the overall quality of life in the city. Inspiration in these topics was sought by municipal representatives in Scandinavian countries. They themselves are aware not only of the environmental problems but also of the weaknesses in introducing innovation and effective management and are actively addressing them. City representatives, therefore, participated in a study tour in Denmark and Sweden, organised by the Smart Cities Club within the Smart City Academy project.

Several Scandinavian organisations gave presentations on their experiences, challenges, and opportunities. Gehl Architects took an interesting approach to changing public space or changing urban planning. As Kristian Villadsen, Director of Gehl Architects Copenhagen, said “We at Gehl see it as a mission, we want to create better cities for people. To make them healthier, greener and more sustainable. To do that, we first need to study the relationships between people’s lives and the city’s physical form. And then we look for solutions to use this.”

Representatives in Copenhagen, Roskilde and Malmö spoke about the functioning of local governments.  Michal Dufinec, the mayor of Michalovce, considers this discussion to be beneficial. “We have to thank the organisers, hats off to them, because the programme had both head and heel. For me personally, the most beneficial lectures were those organised by the city of Copenhagen, Roskilde and Malmö, where as mayor I was able to learn about how the city’s leadership has proceeded to achieve what it has achieved.”

During a reception at Roskilde Town Hall, the study tour participants met with Project Manager Morten Grinderslev, who presented information about Roskilde itself and air pollution. Roskilde has 90 thousand inhabitants, of which 25 thousand are students. They have 18 schools and 75 childcare centers. The city council has 31 members, 8 political parties and 7 political committees. According to the city officials, the total budget in Roskilde is one billion euros. There are only 98 municipalities in Denmark, so they have a significantly higher budget and in-house professional capacities that Slovak municipalities often lack.

According to Miloslav Jurík from the Smart Cities Club, the aim of such a study tour is for city mayors to personally see what to think about when planning, how people should move around the city, and how to use public space before designing the buildings themselves.

The mayors got a first-hand experience of how urban transport works during a bike tour in Copenhagen and Malmö.70 percent of buses in the Danish capital run on electricity or biofuels. It is a city of cyclists, with almost 400 km of cycle paths and 24 cycle bridges. As Monica Magnussen, who met with the mayors, put it: if you look around the city you will see that we have a very good infrastructure for bicycles. You ride in your own lane, which is separated from cars, so it’s safe and extremely fast. We have 5 bicycles per car and in Copenhagen everyone cycles, whether young, poor or student, it’s really for everyone.

Study tour participants also visited Bloxhub, the largest Nordic hub, a centre for sustainable urbanism. It is built on the principle that global urbanisation and climate change challenges require partnerships and new ways of working together. The aim is to create a kind of system that brings together the public, academic and private sectors.

Jakob Norman-Hansen from Bloxhub added that they are also working with the City of Copenhagen, in areas such as climate change, to develop plans. “And we are learning from each other, individual cities in Denmark but also across Europe.”

In Malmo, the delegation was received by the mayor of the city, who answered many questions from the study tour participants throughout the morning. At the end of the visit, she ended as a guide to the very old and eventful Town Hall, in front of which the Slovak flag flew in honour of the study tour delegation.

Peter Fiabáne, Mayor of Žilina, said that it was important to learn about the experience of countries that are objectively ahead of us in terms of urban development, public space solutions, resilience to climate change, the energy crisis and public space, and I am glad to have received answers to these questions.

Based in Copenhagen, the European Environment Agency collects data and produces analyses on the state of the environment, climate change and natural resources for use in EU policy-making.

Angelika Tamášová from the agency thinks that what they are doing can also use at the regional and local level. “We also look at good examples from practice, I believe it will be inspiring for the participants, they can search for information that is relevant.”

The Embassy in Copenhagen has a long-standing cooperation with the Smart Cities Club. Ivana Bennárová Chargé d’affaires – “It is good that they came to see how the city, urbanization, institutions, private and public sectors work together.”

The study stay was attended for the first time by the Mayor of Revúca Július Buchta. He was most impressed by the mindset of people in Scandinavian countries. What he would like to put into practice is how local government transforms the environment for people and thus changes their thinking.

Smart Cities Club expert Jaroslav Kacer mentioned the quality of the public space as the most key tangible experience, which included many elements of greenery, water features and furnishings, highlighting the very high-quality urbanism of Copenhagen and other cities visited. Cities are thus built for the people and have all kinds of activities available, which was evident in the nice weather as Copenhageners enjoyed the parks, playgrounds or the bay. This phenomenon is de facto leading to a reduction in suburbanisation and each of the cities is rapidly increasing in population.

Martin Kremler, Director of the Air Quality Monitoring Department at SHMÚ, described his observations: on my arrival in Copenhagen, I was surprised by the relatively calm traffic with few cars and on the other hand the busy cycling traffic. When getting off the bus, we had to be very careful when crossing the cycle path to avoid collisions. Incredibly, up to 60 percent of all trips in Copenhagen to work and school are made by bicycle. This is due to the excellent infrastructure for cyclists. I was intrigued by a dead-end street sign where there was a narrow white strip above a classic T-bar. It turned out that the street was a dead end for motor traffic only, but not for cyclists. In Copenhagen, I noticed lots of greenery and water features and was intrigued by several larger roundabouts where mature trees grew in the middle. The bike lanes in the roundabouts are painted blue because blue has the longest lifespan, the red paint wears off much sooner.

As Peter Wolf, Mayor of Dubnica nad Váhom, concluded, “I am glad that we could be inspired and listen to advice on what they did well, but also where they made mistakes. So that we can learn and not repeat these mistakes. I will share all the examples of good practice in Slovakia with other colleagues.”

Keep following the Smart Cities Club channels and you will be gradually introduced to more detailed experiences from the study trip.